The Rebirth of the Yankees' Michael Pineda
I think it's officially safe to say that Michael Pineda is back. And he's doing it without the pine tar this time. (At least we think.)
On Sunday, Pineda had his best game yet as a member of the New York Yankees, striking out 16 Baltimore Orioles in seven innings of work, with no walks, six hits and one run. He matched David Wells and David Cone for the second-most strikeouts by a Yankee in a game (Ron Guidry holds the record with 18), and is the first Bronx Bomber to have a start with 16 or more strikeouts and no walks. Only 21 other pitchers have managed to do that.
Also, I learned what "on fleek" means today. So I've got that going for me. Which is nice.
Pineda improved to 5-0 on the season, lowered his ERA to 2.72, and also this.
Since his return from 2 1/2 missed years, Michael Pineda has a 2.21 ERA and a ridiculous 113/10 K/BB in 20 starts.— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) May 11, 2015
It's been a long road back for Pineda, who has had an interesting career to say the least.
After a terrific rookie season with the Seattle Mariners in which he went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA with 173 strikeouts and 55 walks in 171 innings, finishing fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, he was traded to the Yankees in exchange for catching prospect Jesus Montero.
The trade didn't look to good for either side for a while there. Montero is still in the Mariners organization, bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and the Majors. After his trade to New York, Pineda suffered a series of injuries that forced him to miss all of the 2013 and '14 seasons.
Last year he came back and was involved in a series of bizarre pine tar incidents. In an April start against the Boston Red Sox, TV cameras appeared to catch Pineda with pine tar all over the palm of his pitching hand. An inning after it was noticed by commentators, the substance was gone. But then about two weeks later, again against the Red Sox, Pineda had pine tar on his neck. After ignoring it the first time, Boston manager John Farrell notified the umpires about it the second time, and Pineda was ejected and suspended for 10 games.
And while 2014 was not a picture perfect year health-wise for Pineda, he was very effective when he was out there, posting a 1.89 ERA in 13 starts.
This year, he's jumped it up a notch. Coming into Sunday, he had the lowest walk rate of any pitcher in the American League and after his performance against Baltimore has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball, with 54 strikeouts against just 3 walks this year.
It was all working against the Orioles, with a fastball around 93 miles per hour that he amped up to 95 miles per hour, as well as a devastating slider. Eight of his strikeouts came off the fastball and eight were off the slider, and he mixed in a changeup to keep hitters honest as well, something he's used more of this year than in his two previous seasons. According to Fangraphs, coming into Sunday's game, Pineda had thrown the changeup 14.0% of the time this season, more than the 10.8% he threw it last year and 6.3% he threw it in his first season, helping to keep left-handed hitters a bit more honest.
Pineda is quickly becoming must-see baseball TV, with Sunday's performance easily his best-to-date so far. He's still just 26 years old, and if he can stay healthy, has the potential to anchor a Yankees staff that is trying to keep the team in contention for a playoff spot this year.